‘A cycle of impact and engagement’: CJC’s Chris Rudisill talks about connecting journalists and communities to investigate solutions

By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor 

Four years ago, the Solutions Journalism Network started the Charlotte Journalism Collaborative to help connect area residents and journalists in examining solutions to community challenges. The new partners chose to tackle the shortage of affordable housing.

One CJC project is the Local News Impact Summit, which truly makes manifest its mission of community connection — bringing together housing advocates, community leaders, nonprofits and Collaborative journalists to discuss housing challenges and solutions. Its second annual convening was last week, and CJC Director Chris Rudisill told me the discussion produced many ideas for future reporting and for building equitable access to news and information.

I got to talk this week with Rudisill, who has decades of experience in nonprofit leadership, arts management, communications and freelance journalism and is also the digital audience and engagement manager at QnotesCarolinas, the LGBTQ arts, entertainment and news publication based in Charlotte. Because of scheduling difficulties, we chatted by Twitter DM and email.

One of our topics was a favorite of mine and the core of the CJC’s mission — solutions journalism, which is still often misunderstood by journalists who say the news media are in the business of laying out the problems, not solving them. But solutions journalism doesn’t “propose the fix” — it rigorously examines solutions that are already being tried, to find what’s working, what’s not, and why. As Rudisill said, it starts with a question: “Who’s doing it better?”

Here’s our conversation about the CJC, the Summit, solutions journalism and other topics, very lightly edited for length:

EF: For those who don’t know, tell me briefly about the CJC and its work on affordable housing and economic mobility.

CR: The Charlotte Journalism Collaborative was launched by Solutions Journalism Network in 2019 to build stronger connections between residents and local journalism. The partners decided to focus on solutions to affordable housing, something that the Collaborative quickly realized would require a combined multi-year focus… Charlotte is a rapidly growing region whose citizens face increasing difficulty finding affordable places to live close to work and resources, and experience displacement and mass gentrification, skyrocketing property values and taxes, and some of the largest concentrations of corporate-owned rental properties. 

The project was initially supported by funding from SJN’s Local Media Project with financial support from the Knight Foundation and in 2022 became a fiscally sponsored organization under the Knight School of Communication at Queens University. At that time, the CJC launched a $1.5 million funding plan to support the Collaborative through 2026. It continues to raise funds through local and regional grants and funding organizations, including sponsorship of its annual Local News Impact Summit on affordable housing.

Today, the collaborative includes seven local media outlets  — The Charlotte Observer, Carolina Public Press, La Noticia, QCity Metro, Qnotes, WCNC-Charlotte and WFAE 90.7 FM — and local institutions — the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library and the Knight School).

EF: How does the Summit fit into the CJC’s work?

CR: Since its formation, the CJC has prided itself on centering the community in our work. This included early events like Imagine Home: Co-Creating Solutions for Housing in Charlotte, where approximately 100 community members attended an event with our partners at the library’s ImaginOn in October 2019. Attendees provided personal testimonies about affordable housing in Charlotte.

From there, we held virtual town halls during the pandemic and had one-on-one conversations with local housing leaders. Our partnership with Knight Foundation has embedded the CJC into these community networks with other nonprofits focused on addressing affordable housing, and we hope that our involvement better connects the importance of local journalism at tackling problems like this as Charlotte continues to grow. It’s an important part of making Charlotte a thriving city with an informed citizenry. 

This year was our second year, and we went further on making the Local News Impact Summit a space where organizations and leaders could work together, share ideas and source solutions. Throughout the day, we asked an important question though – what can local news organizations do to help tell the story or explain the nuances of the issue?  

It creates a cycle of impact and engagement for the CJC where we are listening to the community to better understand the issue and source solutions or help fuel ideas, reporting and investigating those solutions while equipping more people with trusted information, amplifying those stories through collaboration, and finally asking how our work impacts and serves our neighbors.

EF: What have you learned about solutions journalism from your work with CJC?

CR: The CJC is just one of many solutions journalism projects I’ve worked on over the past few years, so you could probably say I’m a superfan of SJN. For one, much of my background is in nonprofit community work, and I see how solutions journalism allows us to do more robust reporting that moves us beyond reporting on the problem and helps us identify and investigate how others might be coming at an issue. Reporters in the CJC often start with the question, “Who’s doing it better?”

We’ve also heard this from our readers. They appreciate this type of journalism more, and they get excited about the work we do uncovering possible solutions. On our last collaborative project, Solutions City, reporters from different media outlets each took a key issue of affordable housing and investigated solutions in other cities that could potentially work here in Charlotte. We picked cities that were demographically similar to Charlotte and were growing at a similar rate and asked each reporter to include the feasibility of each solution in their reporting. Now, we are bringing these stories to life in our online virtual programming.

In March, we brought together someone from the Jumpstart program in Philadelphia and Delaware with someone from West Side Community Land Trust in Charlotte to talk to each other, ask questions and further see how solutions there might work here. We’re constantly seeing how solutions journalism can better empower us to promote smart decisions for our future and how journalism plays a role in that process.


EF: What have you learned about collaboration?

CR: I have learned that Charlotte and North Carolina truly are a home for collaboration. We’re lucky to have so many invested leaders working in our news organizations that understand the benefits of working together, especially to tackle the big issues that our communities face. They also understand how collaboration allows us to be more creative in how we publish and distribute our work (e.g. the PANDEM!C graphic novel project), more brave in tackling a big problem and holding leaders accountable, and accomplish more in combined investigations, data collecting or reporting.

I have also seen reporters thrive when given the opportunity to work across newsrooms and how local newsrooms are getting ideas from each other to increase individual and group sustainability.

EF: What kind of community impact have you seen from CJC’s work, and what do you see coming out of this year’s Summit? 

CR: We have seen a mix of impact from our work – things from local policy decisions and an increase in conversations about affordable housing to increased audience engagement and readership, and more funding for our journalism partners. 

[Here’s CJC’s latest Impact Report.]

From this year’s Summit, I definitely heard a lot of story ideas that our reporters are already starting to talk about. Some of these ideas, like 3D printed homes, got a lot of interest from panelists and attendees. I think we will see opportunities to further investigate and report on ideas like this, and see organizations working together to further these solutions into viable responses for our community.

There were so many things that stuck with me during the conversations. One attendee spoke about the number of people in Charlotte, those that are struggling to find permanent housing, that aren’t seeing all the stories we produce – some that have vital information for them. I am already starting to think of ways we can expand how we deliver news and information as a collaborative, building equitable access to local journalism. I also heard a lot of people talk about getting these conversations and ideas in front of city leaders, something I believe the CJC has the power to do together.

EF: Make a pitch for why news orgs should do solutions journalism.

CR: Solutions journalism creates deep connections with our communities and encourages us as news organizations to think differently about how we report on the problems we face. It is inspiring, but not fluff – providing robust investigations into how responses work, or perhaps don’t work, and what we can learn from those practices. As a society, it sometimes feels like we are drowning in problems, but if we can tackle something by talking to others, really listening and testing, encouraging collaborative journalism that encourages collaborative action – I think we have a better opportunity to move the needle on the problems we face. 

EF: What else is next for the CJC?

CR: The CJC is continuing to grow financial support for local collaborative journalism in our community. In June, we are working with the NC Local News Workshop and the Knight Foundation to host the inaugural North Carolina News & Philanthropy Forum. It will be an opportunity to bring together funders, business leaders and journalists to share a vision for a stronger, healthier, more connected North Carolina through local news. 

This support is going to allow us to grow, increasing our capacity to do more with the great partners that we have working in Charlotte. We are also looking at broader topics around affordable housing in our coverage as well. For instance, how does affordable housing intersect with the needs for reliable transportation, access to child care and community health resources? We are also working on more informational resources and tools that help people understand the affordable housing issue, and we are excited about working with our partners at WCNC-Charlotte as they partner with Habitat for Humanity on the Carter Work Project this year. Finally, we are promising to keep the conversation going with local housing advocates and organizations beyond the Summit. As I said to attendees, “We do this work with you, and we couldn’t do this work without you.”  

EF: What’s new at Qnotes?

CR: As a North Carolina native and member of the LGBTQ+ community, I have experienced first-hand how important a vibrant and trusted LGBTQ+ news organization is to our safety, visibility and community. Over the course of three years, Qnotes has launched a new online website for local news, arts and culture, and LGBTQ+ voices, participated in national solutions journalism projects on economic mobility and labor and workplace equality and started to grow its membership and newsletter base.

The organization still has a long way to go to build sustainability, and it is one of those projects that many in our community unfortunately won’t miss until it’s gone. But, in the face of both political and social attacks on the LGBTQ+ community, visibility has never been more important, and with a 37-year history, Qnotes has built a trusted organization that has the power to tell authentic LGBTQ+ stories and keep our communities safe and informed.

I am excited to work with Qnotes on building local support and partnering with LGBTQ+ nonprofits like Charlotte Pride to reach more people. If you know of someone who would like to be part of that, the paper is hiring an Advertising and Partnership Account Executive.

NC Local News Workshop